Dede's Green Scene: Before the Flood by Dede Tabak, January 24 2017, 31 Comments

“Climate change is coming faster. We have seen extraordinary weather patterns. If you consider the vastness of the universe, planet Earth is just a small boat. This boat is sinking and I think we will all have to sink together.”

These are the words UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, said to Leonardo DiCaprio before he was appointed UN Messenger of Peace for Climate Change back in 2014. DiCaprio is known for being an outspoken environmental activist, but he wanted to see the devastating effects of climate change for himself. He decided to travel the world and bring along a camera crew to document his journey. That’s how the documentary Before the Flood was born.

Before the Flood gets its title from Hieronymus Bosch’s famous artwork “The Garden of Earthly Delights.” DiCaprio remembers seeing this triptych hanging in his home as a child. The art contains three panels. The first depicts Adam and Eve in the paradise of Eden—everything is pure and pristine. The second panel depicts humans participating in excess and debauchery, without a care in the world. The third panel is called "Hell", and it shows a paradise destroyed and covered in blackness. DiCaprio compares this piece with humanity and our world. Currently, we are living in the second panel, which is titled “Humans Before the Flood,” hence the title of the documentary. And if we don’t stop and change our excessive ways, it’s only a matter of time before that third panel, depicting Hell’s devastation and destruction, becomes our world.

DiCaprio, along with Before the Flood director Fisher Stevens (director of the 2010 award-winning documentary The Cove), travel all over the world—the Arctic, India, China, Florida, and Greenland—to see the effects of climate change, something DiCaprio has now witnessed firsthand. Before the Flood was shot at the same time as DiCaprio’s academy-award winning film, The Revenant. That film's crew had difficulties securing a snowy filming location due to the warming temperatures in Canada and were forced to relocate the film down to Argentina. These same warming temperatures can be seen in the Arctic, where the ice is melting, and Greenland, which has blackened snow from forest fires’ soot and the burning of fossil fuels. These changes affect the ability of the ice to reflect the sun away from the Earth’s atmosphere, so the Earth is absorbing it instead.

It doesn’t stop there. The documentary travels to Sunoco’s tar sands in Canada, to Miami Beach where the mayor has to spend millions of dollars to raise streets to prevent the roads from going underwater. The film also takes us into our oceans and shows us how they have lost 50% of all their coral reefs over the last 50 years due to overfishing and pollution. Viewers travel with the crew to the Indonesian rainforest where the United States' demand for palm oil has consumed 80% of the forest. Burning rainforests to create palm oil fields not only produces an excessive amount of carbon emissions, but also endangers the lives of wildlife that calls the Indonesian rainforest their home, particularly the Orangutan.

Fossil Fuels

One very interesting thing about the film is that DiCaprio is able to use his own fame to sit down and speak with some of the most influential individuals on this topic in the world. Consultants include Pope Francis, President Barack Obama, Elon Musk and Dr. Sunita Narain, director of the Centre for Science and Environment. In the film, DiCaprio sits down with Narain in India to discuss one of the biggest causes of climate change, fossil fuels. There are currently three million people in India who do not have access to electricity. The country's goal is to move these populations toward renewable energy sources instead of fossil fuels.

“We have 700 million households using biomass to cook. If those households move to coal, there'll be that much more use of fossil fuels. Then the entire world is fried. If anyone tells you that the world's poor should move to solar and why do they have to make the mistakes we have made … I hear this from American NGOs all the time. I'm like, wow. I mean, if it was that easy, I would really have liked the U.S. to move to solar. But you haven't," says Dr. Narain in the documentary.

"Let's put our money where our mouth is. China is doing much more investment in solar today than the U.S. is. What is the U.S. doing which the rest of the world can learn from? You are a fossil-addicted country. People like us, we are rich enough to withstand the first hit of climate change. But it's the poor of India, it's the poor of Africa, the poor of Bangladesh, who are impacted today in what I believe are the first tides of climate change … We need countries to believe that climate change is real and it is urgent. It's not a figment of their imagination.”

Dr. Narain makes a powerful point. Why isn’t the United States taking the lead on transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable resources, especially when we see other countries doing it? Germany receives 30% of its energy from solar and wind power. Denmark is currently at 40% but has set a 100% renewable energy goal by 2050. Even China, the world’s number one polluter, is transitioning to renewable energy. The United States is definitely behind. The consumerist lifestyle of America is killing the planet and is the main driver behind most of the world’s pollution. But hopefully that can change.

National Security

DiCaprio himself admits that he is part of the problem. The irony isn’t lost on him that he produced copious amounts of carbon emissions on the documentary itself—flying and driving all over the world. The United States needs to make a lot of changes and set an example for the rest of the world. The Paris Agreements are a step in that direction. In 2015, an agreement was made at the Paris Climate Conference in which countries all over the world came to a universal agreement to try and keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius. Although President Obama agreed with DiCaprio that the agreement is nowhere near where scientists agree we need to be, it’s a start.

The President adds that this isn’t just an environmental issue, but an issue of national security, as well.

“A huge proportion of the world's population lives near oceans. If they start moving, then you start seeing scarce resources are subject to competition between populations. This is the reason the Pentagon has said this is a national security issue," says Obama in the film.

"And this is in addition to the sadness I would feel if my kids could never see a glacier the way that I did when I went up to Alaska. I want them to see the same things that I saw when I was growing up.”

What can WE do?

So, what can we actually do to make a difference? It’s a lot bigger now than just changing your light bulbs and turning off the faucet while you brush your teeth.

Here are some more impactful steps to take:

  • Reach out to government officials and voice your concerns
  • Eat less beef
  • Buy fewer clothes
  • Research what goes into the production of our food and goods and make wise purchase decisions
DiCaprio and the Before the Flood crew offset their carbon emissions by paying a carbon tax. Check out more solutions on the film's Web site. The director and DiCaprio felt that this film was so important that they made it available online for free, so you can stream it now on YouTube and Hulu.